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Human Services Agencies Fighting for Green Budget

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – Human services agencies across Erie County are banding together to fight for a "green" budget. They are appealing to the general public to join their battle.

Over the last few weeks, human service agencies have been rallying together. They formed the Erie County Public Beneficiary Consortium, made up of over 100 agencies that serve about 100,000 people. Wednesday, at the AmeriCorps West Seneca Youth Bureau, Sister Mary Johnice of the Response to Love Center in Buffalo handed out green ribbons -- a symbol to support the County Executive's "green" budget. That version would keep funding for the human services agencies in place if the state allows the county to raise its sales tax by one-penny.

"I have received a letter from Joel Giambra this past week. I do see he has a concerned deep awareness for what we are asking for. But we need the general public to join him in strong force," Sr. Mary said. "We are not here on issues, we are not here on taxes, we are not here to talk about pennies. Our priority is people."

But the County Executive's "red" budget proposal calls for massive cuts to human service agencies. The AmericaCorps West Seneca Youth Bureau depends on $130,000 in county funds. The money pays for youth services including a GED program. Lasharee Jones of Buffalo -- a 23-year old mother of two -- is in that program.

"I will probably lose day care because right now AmeriCorps pays for it so it does not come out of my pocket," Jones said. "I will probably give up on trying to get my GED."

The executive director of AmeriCorps says the proposed "red" budget is like "communism." Mark Lazzara admits that it is a harsh comparison, but says human service agencies can't survive under that plan.

"If we don't get the green budget we are going to live like Red Russia and Red China. And that is not how Americans should live," Lazzara said.

Lazzara says his organization is in support of Giambra's fight for an increase in the sales tax in order to help pay for spiking Medicaid costs.